On a summer evening in 1897, the peace and quiet of downtown Barrie was shattered by the loud crack of gunfire, the startling sound echoing off the tall brick buildings.
In a moment, people out for a walk suddenly found themselves diving for cover as if the O.K. Corral had somehow come north.
“For some time, a desperate gang of burglars has worked in nearly every town and village in the Dominion. Since last spring, the following places in the County of Simcoe have had a visit from the gang, viz: New Lowell, Creemore, Glencairn, Penetanguishene, Victoria Harbour, Waubaushene, Coldwater and Barrie.
"The Dominion and Provincial detectives have been busy trying to locate them. The detectives of the Grand Trunk and Canadian Pacific railways have been hunting from one end of the Dominion to the other, without success.”
The Northern Advance of July 15, 1897 referred to them simply as “a very bad gang.” This trio of desperados were experienced career criminals, armed and dangerous, with ice water running through their veins. They had to be stopped, and in Barrie they were, but not without quite a bit of drama.
When a house was burglarized on Kempenfelt Hill in Barrie’s east end, the scene displayed the hallmarks of the gang’s handiwork, so the search became focused on this community.
Their alleged crimes in both Victoria Harbour and Penetanguishene involved witnesses who provided excellent descriptions of the wanted men.
Whether local Barrie folks noticed or not, law men began to gather in town. County Const. Alfred Beardsley kept his eye on the rails, the roads and the waterfront. He had been provided with a good description of his quarry by a GTR detective who was also on the lookout.
Most of Beardsley’s time was spent strolling up and down the streets of Barrie or casually chatting with the locals, all the while keeping watch. On the evening of July 7, the detective was sitting in the train station, having a chat with a local doctor, when he spied three out-of-place characters walking out onto the dock at the foot of Bayfield Street.
“There go three men I want.”
Beardsley took a wander down to the dock and had a closer look at the trio. These were indeed the men he was after.
He then turned and headed to Dunlop Street where he met Const. McBride just outside the Barrie Hotel. The constables knew they had a fight ahead of them so they requested a hotel employee to accompany them for back-up.
At first, it looked as if the arrest would go smoothly. Near Carley’s boat house, Const. Beardsley took charge of gang member John Maloney while McBride placed Charles Clark under arrest on the dock.
Simultaneously, both Maloney and Clark began to struggle with their would-be captors. Clark was quick. He threw a large bundle of tools into the bay and then reached for his pocket, very obviously planning to draw a gun, but Beardsley was quicker. He fired two shots, none of which hit anyone.
The hotel worker jumped in to assist Const. Beardsley and both Maloney and Clark were finally subdued. The third man, Albert McLean, fired two shots at the constables as he ran away.
Once the pair were lodged in a jail cell, the investigation began.
Several aliases had to be worked through to find the true identities of the gang members they had just captured.
Maloney, alias Smith, alias Robinson, who had been found in possession of a number of items stolen from the various crime scenes, was the least notorious of the gang members. Although he had seven previous convictions under his belt, he had recently married and pleaded that he was trying to find work and turn his life around. He had been less than successful, it would appear.
Once his identity was confirmed, Toronto detectives converged on Maloney’s house in the Junction district of that city. There, they found a wealth of stolen goods, a collection of expert-level burglary tools, one frightened young wife and the missing Albert McLean.
Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.